Finding a Mentor Your Own Age

littledrill creative reminds us what "mentor" really means.

Creative duo littledrill has created and shot campaigns for big-name clients from Adidas and ESPN to Carly Rae Jepsen and Ban.do. The Brooklyn-based team of Shelby Edwards and James Lee Whitney finds inspiration in pop art and modern design, creating fantastically quirky “scroll-stopping” images. We spoke to them about mentorship for our #MyMajorKey series—and specifically how the title of “mentor” can apply to someone any age.

EVERUP: Do you have a mentor, teacher, or coach that helped you to greatness?

littledrill: Many! But we’ll be focusing on one of our greatest friends and mentor, Ryan Harter (pictured below with his wife, Leslie).

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What makes Ryan special and so influential for you?

Ryan’s accomplished a lot, like founding his own company, Harter Creative. When he founded HC with his wife Leslie, it opened our eyes and made us realize we could do a lot more than we were at the time. But while he’s remarkable for all the things he’s done, he’s most remarkable for all the things he never has: He’s never given up, or given in. He’s never sacrificed self respect for notoriety. And of course he’s never stopped believing in us. And trust us, we’ve given him plenty of opportunities.

How did you guys meet?

First, let’s clarify something real quick; our mentor is also our age. We know … lots of people feel like mentors have to be much older, or wildly successful, but Merriam-Webster simply defines a mentor as “a trusted counselor or guide.” James met Ryan in middle school. Of course Ryan was no Obi-Wan back in those days—in fact he was a little more Jar Jar Binks, if you catch our drift. But these days, he’s our most trusted advisor.

So how has your relationship evolved over the years, then?

Ryan’s always been one step ahead. Even back in middle school, he was always imparting some great wisdom he had just discovered, and always encouraging everyone around him to explore their own creativity. Sometimes his wisdom came at great cost. When a mutual childhood friend of ours and her new family passed away in a car accident last year, it came directly after a season when Ryan had lost his mother to cancer, and then his father in another car accident. So Ryan was one step ahead, again. In our opinion, a good mentor is one who can take breaks from success, to help others succeed. But only a great mentor can take a break from being broken, to help a community heal from a great tragedy. And Ryan Harter is a great mentor.

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Has Ryan been mostly influential creatively, or has he coached you through business questions too?

Both! Recently Ryan and and his wife Leslie coached us on how to use our creative talents to make our business proposals more impactful and engaging. It has had a hugely positive impact on our business.

Was there a specific lesson or piece of advice you found particularly valuable?

Ryan and Leslie taught us that to succeed in business, you have to know what you’re worth, and why. This has helped us to be more confident in our ourselves and in our abilities.

And how does advice continue to resonate in your work today?

Knowing our worth has helped us to never undervalue our work, which is awesome. But knowing our worth isn’t necessarily about thinking highly of ourselves; it’s about taking stock, self evaluating, and being honest with ourselves every day. The lasting influence has come through tweaking that question, just a little bit, to ask ourselves how we can be of more worth to each of our clients. The answer to that question is always challenging and exciting.

I assume you guys are keeping in touch, then?

Ryan and Leslie are following their creative dreams in Portland, Oregon. We do keep in touch through Instagram and by touching base on the phone. In the spirit of always being one step ahead of us, the Harters recently welcomed their first child, baby Wit, into the world. Should we ever need advice in that area, we definitely know who to call!

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for length. In our Major Key editorial series, we talk with today’s most forward-thinking creators about their mentors, teachers, and inspirational figures who coached them towards greatness. #MyMajorKey is brought to you by Microsoft Surface.